Recently I was contacted by a gentleman researching for a play, set at the end of the 15th Century on a boat and in a port. He was particularly interested in what would have been drunk on board a ship, what utensils and crockery they may have had and the difference between the eating habits and conditions of the crew and the officers. During our conversation he asked ‘had they even invented forks then?’ Having never really imagined life without forks I set about finding out! This is what I discovered…
Apparently a lot of people assume the fork was introduced to the west during the middle ages (although personally I’ve never really thought about it), it was in fact invented a lot earlier than this, there is plenty of evidence of forks being used by the ancient Greeks and they are even mentioned in the Bible (Book of Samuel 2:13).
Early forks were only used for spearing or holding things in place whilst cutting and would have had two or three straight ‘tines’ and therefore have been of no use for scooping food.
Before the fork became widely used across Europe diners were dependent on spoons and knives and therefore would largely eat with their hands and use a communal spoon when needed. This made dining a non-too hygienic affair as stews and soups were served in communal bowls which guests could just dip into, these soon became filled with bits of whatever other foods the guests were eating. Gentlemen would wear their hats to dinner and stand and doth them in salute to each course as it was brought in and the table cloth would act as a giant napkin for all the guests to wipe their fingers and even their knives on.
The fork was introduced to Europe in the 10th century by Theophanu Byzantine wife of Emperor Otto the 2nd. It made its way to Italy by the 11th century and had become popular amongst merchants by the 14th. When the fork was first introduced as an eating implement it was normal for people to have their own knife and fork made which would be kept in a special box called a cadena, whenever someone through a dinner party or a feast all the guests would bring their own cadena’s to eat with. This custom was then introduced to France in the entourage of Catherine de’Medici.
Forks, however, never really caught on in Britain. Whilst our European cousins were tucking in with their new eating irons the British simply laughed at this ‘feminine affectation’ of the Italians, British men would eat with their fingers and were proud! What’s more even the church was against the use of forks (despite them being in the Bible)! Some writers for the Roman Catholic Church declared it an excessive delicacy, God in his wisdom had provided us with natural forks, in our fingers, and it would be an insult to him to substitute them for these metallic devices.
Eventually we caught on around about the 18th century about the same time that the curved, four tined variety became popular after its development in Germany.
The fork was further developed in the 19th century with the invention of the ‘spork’! A half fork half spoon super eating device! The back of the spork is shaped like a spoon and can scoop food while the front has a few tines like a fork to poke at the food substance, making it convenient and easy to use. It has found popularity in fast food and military settings. You can even get special varieties which have a serrated edge for cutting with!
The National Maritime Museum has some fantastic examples of forks through the ages! Including this toasting fork in the traditional three tined ‘poking and holding’ variety and a specially adapted knife/fork used by Admiral Nelson after the loss of his arm.
The museum has yet to have an example of the spork in the collections, but you might find one in the café.
Leah (Customer Service Library Assistant)
I have recently been busy cataloguing the papers of Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth (1757-1833).
Pellew is best remembered for his dramatic captures of French frigates during the Napoleonic wars and the bombardment of Algiers in 1816. A Cornishman of great drive and energy, he was renowned even as a captain for racing the top men into the shrouds to change sail. More recently he was dashingly played by Robert Lindsay in the TV series ‘Horn blower’.
I recently spent two weeks on holiday in Toulon in the South of France. Between 1811 and 1814, Pellew was commander in chief of the Mediterranean and his most important responsibility was the blockade of the French Mediterranean fleet in Toulon. Despite the passage of 200 hundred years, plenty still remains to remind of those times. Toulon is still a French naval base and there is still plenty of maritime activity, (though mainly sun-seeking yachts).
I did a tour of the harbour which was an excellent way of taking in all the forts defending the harbour. All of these remain, including Fort Balaguier from where a young Napoleon directed the artillery during the siege of Toulon in 1793.
The manuscript collection comprises some thirty boxes of densely packed correspondence and cataloguing it all is quite an undertaking. At times it seems as if it is me who is under blockade by Pellew!
Keep visiting the blog for regular updates on some of the highlights of the collection, and Pellew’s blockade of the Manuscripts department!
Martin (Manuscripts Cataloguer)
The latest National Archives email newsletter announces that the service records of women who served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS or ‘Wrens’) during the First World War are now available online.
This will be pretty exciting news for researchers and family historians as the records were previously only available on microfiche.
What else? The Royal Naval Museum has a WRNS research guide, and you might not have seen our WRNS item of the month, focusing on the HMS Dauntless manuscript collection.
Renee (Digital Resources Librarian)
For the next two weeks we’re conducting market research into what you think about the Caird Library – our facilities and services, what you like about us and what you think we could do better.
We’ll be giving out paper surveys for reading room visitors to fill in, there will be interviewers stationed in the E-Library, and there’s also an online version about electronic resources (including the blog).
We’d be really grateful if you could take a few minutes to fill in one or another of these – it’s your opportunity to be as nice or as rude as you like about us and hopefully we’ll be able to put some of your suggestions into practice.
Tanya (Reader Services Librarian)
It was a pleasure meeting up with COFA (the Caribbean Over Fifties Association) whose members originally come from all around the Caribbean. We went down memory lane with a look at Caribbean proverbs and their connection with various traditions such as the African, the British, the Amerindian, the East Indian and of course the Bible. Reggae music provides some strong examples of proverbs in the context of social commentary as in Bob Marley’s reference to small axe cutting down big tree and ‘every day carry bucket to de well, one day bucket bottom a drop out.’ With the influence of African syntax on the Creole use of English words, you end up with some rich parallels. So for ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ you get the Jamaican ‘One-time fool no fool but two-time fool a damn fool.’ Look forward to our next COFA meet-up.
Must mention Thursday’s reading for staff at the Regatta restaurant. Flora got the evening together with an avalanche of e-mails. Not as big a turn-out as she was hoping for. But the audience was lovely and with Mark’s splendid selection of vintage calypso and reggae and with Danny at the techno control belting out the sounds, the Regatta was transformed into a friendly shake-a-leg atmosphere. Thanks to all who helped to make it happen and we couldn’t ask for a more fitting and moving end to the occasion than a spontaneous rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ by Esther, our inimitable Guyana-born Gallery Assistant. Head of Department Sarah introduced the reading and the vibes were right to try a new poem inspired by the NMM experience. Let me tell you how I got the inspiration and many of you will recognise it. During a Black History month walk with the knowledgeable Steve Martin who shares his information generously on these walkabouts, we passed, on the way to the Observatory, a charmingly sited café called The Honest Sausage. I’m sure you all know it. So I thought to myself, you don’t see that everyday. There’s something in that!
What if that larger-than-life Black Victorian gentleman Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780) were to stop and chill out at such a café? Born on a slaveship, he was given the name Sancho by three Greenwich sisters after the sidekick of Don Quixote. He read books lent him by the Duke of Montague, and as butler to the Montague household, he would no doubt be familiar with the feasting practices of skewering cooked swans, pheasants etc into their own feathers. After such extravagant practices, an honest sausage would be a welcome relief!!! As you know, Sancho was a man of the arts and an eloquent writer of letters. In fact, the Letters of Ignatius Sancho (published in 1782) proved a bestseller and are now part of university studies. But Sancho also liked his food as much as the theatre, so let’s have him stop a while at The Honest Sausage
The Letter-Writing Ghost Of Ignatius Sancho
Here I am in royal grounds of Greenwich
at a café called The Honest Sausage.
Ah, dear boy, how lovely to munch alfresco
And simply be Ignatius Sancho.
So with words for my honest ingredients
I shall not mince my stock of sentiments.
Indeed, how can you not trust my language
when my mouth is filled with an honest sausage?
Mrs Sancho, my treasured better half, would deem
an honest sausage worthy of esteem
and approve my resting my gout-ridden feet
here where Empire’s feasting on-the-hill elite
overlooked their remote middle passage
like pheasants skewered in their own plumage.
If history’s forked tongues are living doppelgangers
Then let us give thanks for honest bangers
Yet returning to the grounds of Montague
I see the old house like the good Duke gone
And roller skates have taken the place of swans.
And the black presence shades the red, white and blue.
O browsing the Duke’s library was my dukedom
as I Sancho am pleased to see my letters thumbed
While little Brits of motley complexion stride
to futures made rich when diasporas collide.
John Agard (Poet in Residence)
Hi my name is Richard Axelby and I’m working as a Caird Research Fellow helping out on the early stages of planning for the Indian Ocean Worlds exhibition.
My academic background is in Anthropology but, after spending an exhausting 15 months of fieldwork chasing sheep and shepherds up and down the Himalayas, I decided that an immediate change of disciplines was necessary. Thus, upon finally finishing my PhD, I shifted sideways into the field of history reasoning that archival study allowed me the best chance to stay warm and dry. Alongside anthropology, my research interests include the history of science and of the environment.
I’m particularly interesting in the ways in which different cultures perceive and represent the natural world around them, whether it is flora, fauna, landscapes or other people. Maritime history offers huge potential for exploring the range of cross-cultural points of contact occurring between Europeans and Asians from the 16th century onwards and that progressed through exploration to trade, colonial expansion and resistance.
Over the next few months I’ll be sifting through the Museum’s collections looking for examples of these encounters. Attempts to understand and represent ‘the other’ can be found written into a sailor’s dairy, or illustrated by one of Hodges’ paintings of Indian scenery, or shown in an African mask or the casual snapshots of a colonial administrator. Together these items demonstrate a shifting diversity of views which reveals the extent to which every encounter is a co-production which leaves neither side untouched.
So if you have any suggestions or ideas, or just fancy a chat, I can often be found lurking in the Caird Library, or you can email me at: email@example.com.
Richard (Caird Research Fellow)
This summer, the European Space Agency (ESA) reported that the Northwest (or North West) Passage was completely clear of ice for the first time since records began. A BBC science and environment correspondent, David Shukman, is currently aboard a Canadian Coast Guard research vessel, the Amundsen and is keeping a blog of its journey through the Northwest Passage.
The Northwest Passage, described as the “sea route linking the North Atlantic Ocean with the North Pacific Ocean” (Cited in Day 2006, xxxiii), has fascinated explorers since its existence was first proposed in the late 15th century. For some four hundred years numerous expeditions sought to navigate this most elusive of sea routes. All failed to discover the passage in its entirety and many perished in the attempt. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the route was successfully navigated from one end to the other by Roald Amundsen in an expedition the lasted from 1903-1906.
The Caird Library has a wonderful collection of material relating to the search for the Northwest Passage including maps, diaries, expedition accounts, and books. Listed below is a small selection of material relating to the many expeditions in chronological order.
1497-1498 : John Cabot
1576-1578 : Martin Frobisher
1585-1587 : John Davis
1767-1772 : Samuel Hearne
1631-1632 : Thomas James
1819-1848 : William Parry
1821-1822 : John Franklin
1850-1853 : Robert McClure
Gary (Assistant Librarian)
I was reading through some web metrics for the blog the other day, and was amused to see that Tanya’s post on the ship’s biscuit recipe had been discovered several times by people searching for “biscuit recipes”. “Hard biscuit recipes” even.
Anyway this led me onto a whole ship’s biscuit theme, so I had a look on del.icio.us and found that somebody else had already tagged this particular ship’s biscuit, from our very own collections. It says a lot about the preservative qualities of the recipe that a biscuit made in 1784 looks this good.
The Royal Naval Museum also has some good information, and another recipe.
Also, if anyone has actually made a batch from Tanya’s recipe (which she found in an old file in the library office) we’d be very interested to know. Personally, I think the lack of sugar would put me off.
Renée (Digital Resources Librarian)
Website of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, incorporating the Royal Naval Museum (and Royal Naval Museum Library) and many other attractions including the Mary Rose and HMS Victory.
This Library comprises the amalgamated collections of the former Royal Naval Hospitals at Haslar and Stonehouse (Plymouth).